Arriving to Barcelona to work for Johan Cruyff was like being a kid in a candy store. Well, a 38 year old kid to be fair.
How many Americans get to do that?
Answer: 1 (lucky me)
I knew that I was on a journey that would change my life forever. I would have access to one of the greatest minds in modern football and enjoy 14 years with Johan before his passing.
There are many moments that were private and are never to be shared. But the stories of football must be shared for all those who love the game.
What you read about Johan’s respect for Pep Guardiola is true – not just a fictional parade for the press. And while that relationship would change the course of football in Barcelona and beyond, we as coaches have the opportunity allow it to change the way we evaluate talent. If Johan can find talent in one young man when so many were eager to toss Pep aside then surely we can find one player being overlooked at our clubs.
We as coaches can rethink talent.
And then we can rethink the way we discover it and how we nurture it.
If we listen carefully, the story of Pep is the story of Rafi in Seattle, Benito in California, Cody in Canada, and Nick in Virginia. It is the story of a wise coach who looked at the qualities of a player that all others overlooked. It is a story that places intelligence above physical prowess.
How many players have we dismissed as easily as FC Barcelona executives were about to do with Pep?
“As a player at Barcelona, they wanted to get rid of Pep because they thought he was a lanky great beanpole who couldn't defend, who had no strength and couldn't do anything in the air. So he was blamed for all the things he wasn't good at, while I thought they were all things he could learn to do well.”
“What all those people didn't see was that Guardiola had the fundamental qualities needed at the top level: speed of action, technique, insight. Those are phenomena that very few people exhibit, but in his case they were present in spades.”
“As well as his footballing qualities, Guardiola has a very strong personality and an intelligent mind. You can talk to him about any subject under the sun.” – Johan Cruyff
Johan valued the player and the person. And that person who he nurtured into a midfield mastermind led FC Barcelona to a historic four consecutive titles and its first Champions League trophy. That same “beanpole” with nothing to offer the youth academy would return to win more trophies than any other coach in the history of the Catalan giants.
If a scrawny player who was to be dismissed can be a shining example of how to develop a talented, intelligent and responsible footballer, perhaps there is a lesson in here for all of us who are on football fields or in classrooms worldwide.
We have an opportunity to rethink talent with a little help from Johan Cruyff.
Do we have the courage to do so?